Education is a powerful tool when it comes to prevention, and its use in the fight against opiate addiction is critical. When it comes to educating children against the dangers, two things are clear — starting early is critical, and everyone from parents, caregivers, community leaders and schools play significant roles in the effort.
Annually, districts participate in the Pennsylvania Youth Survey, administered to students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades in all districts across the state. The survey helps administrators identify perceived risks of drug use, parental attitudes and students’ overall perception of how drugs affect them. The survey indicates that over the past 10 years, students’ perceived risk associated with drug use is dropping. It also shows that students feel parents are more accepting when it comes to marijuana and underage alcohol use.
According to the survey’s statistics, 68 percent of local high school seniors have used alcohol; 34 percent marijuana; 29 percent cigarettes and 21 percent smokeless tobacco; and 11 percent narcotics. The PA Youth Survey further indicates 30 percent of Centre County students identify themselves as feeling depressed, which directly correlates to increased addiction rates.
These stats are staggering and beg the question, what can be done to change the mindsets of our youth and minimize these dangerous risk factors?
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Local schools are stepping up education and prevention efforts. The D.A.R.E program, which was introduced in the 1980s, has largely been replaced with programs that educate students on the risks and help them make positive choices. These programs also seek to educate the entire family and involve parents in the prevention efforts. School districts are incorporating Straight Talks, town halls and early education health classes as ways to communicate vital information to students associated with opioids. These messages need to be reinforced at home. Talking about the issue and what your child is experiencing or hearing is a good start. There are also numerous resources available through your school or local organizations, such as the Centre County Youth Service Bureau, to help you start the dialogue.
When it comes to education and prevention in the schools, limited resources and acknowledgment of the issue from families and the surrounding community can be barriers to success. Schools need to be direct with parents and the community about the severity of the issue. They also have the difficult task of getting creative when it comes to funding educational and supportive programs.
State College Area School District offers one example of how this can be done. The district’s symbiotic relationship with the Cedar Building at Penn State allows SCASD to go beyond the survey and provide further services and counseling to students at risk. Other districts should look to foster similar relationships, with Penn State or surrounding colleges. Greater collaboration across the county and the five area school districts could also help spread scarce resources more widely.
At home, parents need to educate themselves on this issue. Forty-two percent of high school seniors surveyed reported that they could easily access prescription drugs for recreational purposes if they wanted. Parents handling and disposing of this medication properly to keep it out of kids’ hands, as well as partnering with schools to reinforce healthy life decisions at home, is critical to success. Advocating for your child when a prescription drug is prescribed and closely monitoring usage is also important.
Addiction is unforgiving and does not discriminate. Kids can’t feel immune to the risks at hand. Opiates are so strong that oftentimes, one bad decision can lead to a lifelong struggle. Those struggling don’t have to suffer alone. We are lucky to live in a community that has multiple resources, recognizes the risk and is working toward stopping the epidemic.
As residents of this community, we can aid in that fight by supporting our schools and families in their efforts to prevent addiction through education and intervention. We can also be more open and accepting of those struggling with addiction. The more the issue is brought out in the open and discussed, the more support can be provided to those in need and positive change can occur.
For more information, or if you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, visit centrecountypa.com/drugandalcohol.